Last weekend’s ugly attack on anti-rape protesters by the Delhi Police has sparked off an extraordinary public brawl between Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and the city’s police commissioner, Neeraj Kumar. Delhi’s citizens might have been forgiven for hoping the heads of the two institutions would be working together to ensure the security of the city’s women. Ms Dikshit has demanded that Mr. Kumar and other senior officers be sacked; Mr. Kumar, for his part, has made clear his disdain for the Chief Minister’s complaints. The reason behind Ms Dikshit’s fury isn’t a mystery. Not for the first time, the Chief Minister has found herself carrying the can for the actions of a police force over which she has no control. Though Delhi became a State in 1993, its Commissioner of Police reports to the Lieutenant-Governor, not the Chief Minister. The LG, in turn, is the representative of the Centre, which appoints him. The police was ordered by the Union Home Ministry to clear the India Gate area of all protesters —evidently because of its desire to host Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, at Hyderabad House. Ms Dikshit and her party, unlike the bureaucrats who took that decision, have to answer to the city’s citizens for the atrocious manner in which the police went about clearing the area.
The dispute over who ought to run the Delhi Police is an old one. The State Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have both sought, for years, for the Delhi government to take control of the force. At least seven resolutions have been passed in the legislative assembly, with the support of all parties, seeking full statehood. The national leadership of both major parties, when in power, has however been equally dogged in its resistance to the idea. The Union Home Ministry points out, with some justification, that many state police forces are victims of political partisanship, and thus far more dysfunctional than their Delhi counterparts. The real question, though, isn’t which branch of the executive ought to have control of the police — it is how to make the force accountable to citizens. In its landmark 2006 orders in the Prakash Singh case, the Supreme Court laid down a series of seven recommendations to that end. Most States have dragged their feet on implementing the court’s plan. In Delhi, some elements of reform have been implemented but in too half-hearted a manner. And fresh legislation on the anvil will make the police less accountable than it already is. Instead of sparring over turf, the Central and Delhi governments could make a real contribution by implementing the police reforms recommended by the Supreme Court as a first step towards giving not just India’s Capital, but the country, the police it deserves.